By Paul Ndiho
South African government condemned a recent wave of deadly riots and xenophobic attacks against foreigners. Last week, some Nigerians returned to Lagos on a free flight from Johannesburg, following a series of attacks that have stoked tensions between Africa’s two largest economies.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa condemned a recent wave of deadly riots and xenophobic attacks on the homes and businesses of foreign nationals.
“No amount of anger and frustration and grievance can justify such acts of wanton destruction and criminality. There can be no excuse for the attacks on the homes and businesses of foreign nationals, just as there can be no excuse whatsoever for xenophobia or any form of intolerance.”
Many Nigerians living in South Africa were repatriated back home last week following a wave of xenophobic attacks targeting foreign nationals in Pretoria before spreading to nearby Johannesburg. Both cities, in Gauteng province, have large immigrant populations.
A free flight carrying nearly 200 Nigerians landed in Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos, with some of those on board singing their national anthem while waving pictures of burnt shops.
“The situation is terrible, my brother, I am telling you. We were all scared, to the point that they go from home to home looking for Nigerians, that is what they are looking for. South Africa, the apartheid in South Africa and the policy is continuing in South Africa, that is the policy of segregation. This time it’s not about segregation from white, from black, it is about the oppression of other Africans.”
Violence in South Africa has killed at least 12 people, and police say they had arrested more than 700 people in the attacks spread across Gauteng province, where Johannesburg and Pretoria are located. Rose Uzoma, a Democratic Republic of Congo citizen boarded the flight with her five children, leaving her Nigerian husband behind.
“With my kids, I am not a Nigerian, foreign citizen, but I am happy to be Nigerian because what I saw in South Africa it was terrible. For the past four days, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t do anything because of the fear, because of the fear of being killed, because of the fear of being attacked, because of the fear of my children being killed, or being burnt alive. So I am happy to be in Nigeria right now.”
The surge of anti-foreigner violence has forced some foreign nationals to seek refuge in a community hall after being displaced in the east Johannesburg township of Katlehong.
“I am terrified, but in the news, they are saying the fighting is finished, but we are still fighting, they are fighting with us, even today. So now I am homeless, they burnt everything that belongs to me. I thank God that I am still alive.”
An alleged drug dealer shooting sparked part of the unrest in South Africa, along with the killing of a taxi driver, which led to South African taxi drivers and locals instantly retaliating.
Over 50 shops and businesses were destroyed last Monday. The shops targeted are mainly owned by Africans from other countries on the continent, such as Nigeria and Somalia.
“let’s go back home now to start afresh’. My brother, you know. You go home empty-handed, you know what it means? To go home empty-handed to your own country, to start from grassroots again. It’s like when you are born again.
South Africa is a major destination for economic migrants from neighboring countries. Those migrants have often borne the brunt of anger from locals frustrated over jobs. But the latest surge of attacks on businesses and homes is extremely troublesome. The embassies of Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Mozambique have liaised with the International Organization for Migration to carry out voluntary repatriations.